Long, long, ago, a kind and gentle King ruled over a mighty kingdom.
He was dearly loved by his many subjects and his court, and all was prosperous and peaceful, in his realm. All were happy, except for the Kings only son. The Prince would spend his days at the window, gazing mournfully over the land. Every day his face became paler, and the King was filled with worry.
“Dearest son,” he said “what is it that you lack? What makes you so unhappy? Is there something you need? Is there perhaps a girl you love and would like to marry? I will move heaven and earth to bring you anything that would lift your heavy heart!”
The Prince would only slowly shake his head, and answer “No, father. I have everything. I do not know what it is, that causes this constant sorrow.”
The King feared that his son would die of melancholy. In despair, called for council with his wisest and most learned advisors. For three full days they met, and after much discussion and consulting the head astrologer came forward, and spoke.
“Your Majesty,” he said, “ We have discovered that the only thing to cure your son, would be to find a truly happy man. You must find him, and when you have found this man, who is happy through and through, then you must exchange the Princes’ shirt with that of his, and all will be well again.”
The King took heart. He thanked them and straight away began the search. He sent out his most accomplished ambassadors, and notices were posted throughout the kingdom, without the offer of reward. The King was wise and knew that any man who looked for something in return, could not be entirely content. A truly happy man was one who felt at peace with what he had.
At first, the palace priest was brought into the throne room.
“Are you happy? “ asked the king.
“Why yes!” the priest replied.
“Then would you like to be a Bishop?” said the king
“Oh, your majesty! Nothing would bring me greater joy!” said the priest
“Then you are not, indeed, a happy man.” replied the King, and sent the bishop on his way.
The Prince grew ever more sickly and pale. The King grew more concerned.
He called on the king of a prosperous, neighboring, kingdom, who had a good wife, and many healthy children, and knew no enemies. Surely, he was happy!
But when the Prince’s father asked him if he was, the neighboring king answered with a sigh.
“Ah! Surely I should be. Fortune smiles upon me – there is nothing that I lack! But day in and day out, I am overcome with worry. What will happen to my kingdom when I die? I fear I will lose everything! Because of this, in truth, I am a most unhappy man.”
The search continued, and as time passed, the Prince had now taken to his bed.
The king was beside himself and knew not what to do.
Thinking it would lift his spirits for a day, he rode out on a hunt. But not being able to take his mind off of his ailing son, his last arrow missed its mark and disappeared into the tall grasses of a field.
The King dismounted and wandered through the tall grass to find it. As he searched for the arrow, the sound of a man’s singing reached his ears. The tune was joyful, and his heart grew light.
“Surely, one who sings like this is happy!” he cried and ran towards the sound. There he found a man at rest from his work in the field. The man lay in the grass with a scythe on the ground at his side. And sang as he looked into the sky, smiling happily, as sweat ran down his dirt-smudged brow.
The King was overjoyed and asked the man if he was happy.
“Indeed, I am” the man replied.
At last, at last! thought the king. If a man can toil all day in the fields and still sing as if the work was nothing, surely he was truly content!
“Would you like to come to the palace?” asked the King.
“No,” said the man, who didn’t know who stood before him “I would not trade my place with the King himself! I am happy just as I am.”
“My good man!” exclaimed the king with joy “I will give you anything you want – anything at all! Just – “ and the king reached over to open the man’s jacket, and saw —–
That underneath his jacket, the happy man did not have a shirt.